SIDA responds; scientists push for answers over funding of Golden Rice vandalism

This is an English translation of the response by the Swedish minister of development cooperation to a letter sent by scientists protesting its funding of Masipag, a Filipino activist group linked to the recent vandalism of a Golden Rice trial. See below for a further response from Swedish scientists

Answer to questions about Swedish foreign aid to the International Rice Research Institute and the local organisation MASIPAG

For many years Swedish foreign aid has contributed to the development of agriculture in the poorest countries of the world. Sweden has, through Sida, supported both local farmer organisations such as MASIPAG, and world leading research institutes such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The government strives to make the different parts of the Swedish foreign aid programme complementary to each other in order to create synergies. Projects that support small local farmer organisations often yield very good results in the form of e.g. exchange of knowledge, strengthened land ownership and collaborations between farmers, which contribute to increased yields and reduced pressure on the environment. Foreign aid directed towards research and development can contribute to increased knowledge and e.g. new crop varieties that in the long run can contribute to more productive agriculture. Interaction with both small-scale farmers and scientists is required to sustain the global food- and feed supply.

I appreciate that you bring forward this important information. Foreign aid intended for agricultural development should obviously never be used to finance criminal activities.

Sida has a clear mandate to conduct effective aid and combating fraud in its handling of aid efforts

Yours sincerely

Hillevi Engström
Minister for Development Cooperation
Government of Sweden

Further response from Swedish scientists:

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka
Director General
SIDA

Dear Charlotte Petri Gornitzka,

As you probably know, in a letter on October 20 to the Minister for Development Cooperation Mrs Hillevi Engström, we highlighted that aid funds from Sida figure in the vandalism of International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI’s) field trials with Golden Rice which took place last August.

The letter was signed not only by us, but also by Nina Fedoroff, former director of the AAAS, and Robert Zeigler, director of IRRI. Hence, our letter was published in English on the day that the Swedish version went to the Ministry. The letter has been noted and commented on positively by scientists and others familiar with research oriented developmental aid to an extent that we had never dreamed of. For example, Hans Rosling – a Swedish academic with a worldwide reputation for his expertise in development issues – has about 150,000 followers of his Twitter feed. He has linked to our letter in extenso.

In her reply of Oct. 25 Hillevi Engström notes the following:

“I appreciate that you put forward this important information. Foreign aid intended for agricultural development may obviously never be used to fund criminal activities. Sida has a clear mandate to conduct effective aid and combating fraud in its handling of aid efforts.”

We have also translated the Minister’s response (above), and we note in particular her clarification as to Sida’s mission to counter improprieties.

Both we and our international colleagues are amazed that no one at a responsible level has yet made a clear statement with respect to the core issue, namely the fact that the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SNF) recieves funding from Sida, which is channelled to an organization, Masipag, which on its website declares that they support vandalism of IRRI’s field trials of Golden Rice. This is definitely no “accident at work” from Masipag’s side. Masipag acts as a campaign organization against modern plant breeding; approximately half of the last six months’ notices on Masipag’s own website concern this campaigning.

Whether this is an acceptable use of Swedish aid is of course not primarily a legal issue. It is therefore in no way dependent on whether individual members of Masipag will be found guilty in court, as the chairman of SNF tried to argue in Swedish public radio on October 25, a view that was repeated by officials from Sida in the morning paper UNT today.

Instead, we feel it is very much a matter of policy, highlighting the question whether Swedish aid should be used to support programmatic opposition to modern plant breeding. Masipag is not the only example; such programmatic resistance is found in several projects supported by Sida, even if the resistance is not necessarily manifested as vandalism of field trials.

Hillevi Engström writes that “the government strives to make the different parts of the Swedish foreign aid programme complementary…” and that “Interaction with both small-scale farmers and scientists is required…” We fully endorse these principles, which is precisely why we question the support to organizations running campaigns aimed at discouraging synergies. Anti-scientific opposition to modern plant breeding is in our opinion always counterproductive and detrimental to positive development.

We look forward to your clarifying response

Sincerely yours

Torbjörn Fagerström
Professor emeritus of theoretical ecology, Lund University
Former Deputy Vice Chancellor SLU

Sten Stymne
Professor of Plant Breeding
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)

Stefan Jansson
Professor of Plant Cell and Molecular Biology
Umeå University

Jens Sundström
Assoc. Professor of Plant Physiology, SLU

One single comment

  1. Clyde Davies says:

    This case, to me, seems like it started off as the right hand not knowing that the left hand was doing. That’s forgivable as long as the government acknowledges its mistake. The minister’s mealy mouthed attempt at post-hoc rationalisation seems anything but.

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